Critics’ Picks

Cologne

Tino Sehgal

Johnen + Schöttle
Maria-Hilf-Strasse 17
April 22–May 22, 2004

No pictures, please: Not only does Tino Sehgal prefer that his artworks not be photographed, but he asks his gallerists not to release CVs, press releases, or other supporting materials. Thus he pointedly circumnavigates the pitfall that snared the original Conceptualists: In their attempt to produce works of art that could not be commodified, they of course kicked off a brisk business in documentary materials of all kinds. Sehgal’s rigorous yet playful works, which read like amalgams of avant-garde choreography and institutional critique, wittily reconstitute the business transactions and protocols of the art world. His art-fair and biennial performances, in which he hires people to trill the titles of his works in birdlike falsettos, are fairly well known; he has also had museum guards do jumping jacks and has convened the directors of the Museum Ludwig to negotiate the purchase of a piece. In all of these cases, the actions themselves (the singsong title recitations, the jumping jacks, the negotiations) constitute the work, in its entirety. At Johnen + Schöttle, he has enlisted the gallery’s employees to engage in all sorts of unnerving interactions with visitors. They breathe heavily, fall to the floor in unison, back up toward the wall like frightened animals. There is only one way to stop the disorienting performance—but I’m not at liberty to divulge what it is. Sehgal wants people to figure out art for themselves, and he has enough faith in them to trust that they can.